The top opposition challenger in the Belarusian presidential election has threatened to call a nationwide strike.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has threatened to call for a national strike unless Belarus’s authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko announces his resignation, releases political prisoners and stops his government’s violent crackdown on protesters.
“If our demands aren’t fulfilled by October 25, the entire country will peacefully take to the streets,” she said in a statement issued from Vilnius, Lithuania, where she is in exile after leaving Belarus under pressure from authorities after the country’s disputed presidential election on August 9.
“On October 26, a national strike of all enterprises will begin, all roads will be blocked, sales in state-owned stores will collapse. You have 13 days to fulfil three conditions. We have 13 days to prepare, and in the meantime Belarusians will continue their peaceful and persistent protest,” the statement said.
Belarus has been rocked by mass protests since August 9, when results of a presidential election reportedly handed Mr Lukashenko a sixth term in office.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya, who officials claim got only 10% of the vote, and her supporters refused to recognise the results as valid, saying they were riddled with fraud. The European Union and the United States have also refused to recognise the official results of the vote.
The rallies, some of which drew up to 200,000 people demanding the president’s resignation, posed the biggest challenge yet to Mr Lukashenko, who has run the country for 26 years, relentlessly repressing the opposition and independent media.
In the first days of the protests, Belarusian authorities cracked down brutally on protesters, with police detaining thousands and beating scores. The government has since maintained the pressure, detaining hundreds of protesters and prosecuting top activists. Prominent members of the opposition’s Co-ordination Council, which was formed to push for a transition of power, have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
Mr Lukashenko initially bristled at the suggestion of a dialogue with the opposition. But on Saturday, he visited a prison to talk to jailed activists in a move commentators interpreted as an attempt to imitate a dialogue to reduce tensions.
The following day authorities ramped up their crackdown on protesters, dispersing crowds with water cannons and stun grenades, hurting dozens and detaining hundreds.
In a statement on Tuesday, Ms Tsikhanouskaya condemned that violence.
“We woke up two months ago on a regular day and went to polling stations. We voted for the change. Later we took to the streets to get our votes back but got bullets, sticks, prison cages and cynical lies in return,” she said.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya’s spokeswoman Anna Krasulina told The Associated Press that the statement with the demands “has been relayed to all official structures of Belarus”.
She said that members of the opposition’s Co-ordination Council who were forced to leave the country held a meeting in Vilnius on Monday.
“A decision has been made to act more decisively,” Ms Krasulina said.